Probate Court Records: The Way to Find Your Ancestors!

If you are curious about a deceased relative, and want to know more about his or her past, the probate court is a great place to start. The probate court keeps records about every person who passes away. These detailed documents show how the estate was divided, and profile the heirs. Also, the records show how much money went to creditors, and which creditors were reimbursed. The court records may also discuss where the dependents of the decedent were placed, and whether or not there was a will guiding the process.

During the probate process, men and women may create important documents like wills, bonds, petitions, accounts, administrations, distributions, inventories, decrees, or orders. If you are trying to determine your genealogy, then these records are crucial. You will want to find the probate court that completed the process for your ancestor, and then look through the documents held there. Many times these are the only sources of relevant information about the decedent you are inquiring of. These important documents can tell you the date of death, and provide a host of important names. Maybe you want the name of a decedent's spouse, children, parents, siblings, or in-laws- probate records are the place to start.

Some documents also list a decedent's co-workers, neighbors, friends, or distant relatives. You might be able to find the ancestor's place of residence. If the decedent died with children who were not old enough to take care of themselves, then the probate probably determined who would become the children's legal guardian. Probate records often keep track of these minors, and you may be able to find out where they are now, or who adopted them. Probate courts might also have a record of the decedent's previous residence, occupation, property ownership, assets, religion, and military service. Some records may detail valuable items in the estate, and give clues about previous marriages or families.

According to Family Search, probate records are essential because they pre-date the birth and death records kept by civil authorities. Probate courts were introduced into the United States in 1754, and established as a state institution in 1851. This means that the records can trace back many generations, and hold much more information than the other records kept by civil courts. Before 1900, about 25 percent of American estates underwent probate when a decedent passed away. There was a greater concentration of probate procedure in rural areas, because of the land ownership rights granted to farmers.

While only a quarter of the American population underwent probate before 1900, many of those people mentioned others in their wills. Because of this, about half of the Americans alive before the turn of the century are crystallized somewhere in the probate records. Unfortunately, while probate records can be exceedingly helpful they have limitations. Not everyone has an estate that was probated in court, and not all relatives are listed in all probate documents. Sometimes a probate record will only mention the decedent's wife and children.

Other times, the probate court will not include the date of death in the records, or any information on the residence of the relatives. Whenever you are searching for information in probate records, try to locate the original documents. Transcriptions are sometimes sloppy and full of errors, or may not have been finished. You could possibly need a probate court records guide to locate the name that you are looking for. Files are extensive and are often spread out, so you may want some help when searching for someone specific. If you do not find what you are looking for in once record, it may be worth it to search other jurisdictions for related information. With some careful searching, probate records just might help you on your path to discovering the stories of previous generations.